:: As founder and editor in chief of China Web2.0 Review, an award-winning English-language blog dedicated to tracking the latest developments in China’s Internet and mobile markets, Tangos Chan has long established himself as one of the most authoritative voices on China’s digital space. Tangos is also a VP at China Growth Capital and a lead organizer of the annual Chinese Blogger Conference. Follow Tangos on Twitter at @tangos, or for China Web2.0 Review feeds on Twitter, follow @cwr.
[note: this interview has been translated from Chinese]
56minus1: Now or in the future, where do you see local innovation coming from in the Chinese digital space?
Tangos Chan: Even though at the end of 2007 I gave a lecture on Chinese innovation in the digital space, I feel that if you take the whole Chinese digital space into consideration, it really lacking in innovation. Sure, there is “Chinese style innovation” and a culture of “shanzhai” (knock-off) innovation that adapts already developed stuff to better suit the China market, but in reality, this is just “copying” with only minor alteration. What little innovation there is occurs at the applied level, while at the most basic core technology level and in the application space there is practically none to be found. I feel this will be quite difficult to change in the short term, as China’s entire education environment / system and social situation really doesn’t do much to cultivate innovation.
56minus1: What are your biggest and boldest predictions for the Chinese Internet over the next 18 months? What can we expect?
Tangos Chan: Oh god, why does everyone always like to ask this question…I’m really not very good at making predictions. When I was in school, me and a friend used to bet on sports…I lost every time. One time though, a classmate noticed that I always seemed to lose, so when Saudi Arabia played Belgium in the World Cup, he gave me a chance by intentionally betting on Saudi Arabia to win. In the end, Saudi Arabia scored an incredible goal and won the match 1:0…I lost again…OK, next question…hahahaha. Alright, I will try my best to make some predictions for the next 18 months, here goes: 1) most of China’s Internet companies will turn into gaming companies…it doesn’t matter is it’s MMORPG or simple online / Web site / casual games, or games within social networking sites, etc.; 2) Google will steal considerable search market share from Baidu because Baidu is simply over-extended with its offering…the company’s product line is just all over the place; and 3) Besides Google, all other foreign companies, for the most part, will exit the China Internet market.
56minus1: BBS / online discussion forums are king in China, but why? Historical precedent? User preference for anonymity and multiple content creators, etc.? Or? Your thoughts?
Tangos Chan: In China, BBS is very important. One reason is because of historical president, yes. For example, China’s biggest portal Sina originated from a BBS. Besides historical reasons, I think BBS are extremely popular in China because everyone’s interest in and tolerance for China’s domestic mainstream media’s reporting is waning. People are looking for new sources and channels of information and news. Also, in China (online or off), it is very hard to find a place to freely share your voice or opinion with the general public, BBS provides this opportunity, and because of it’s anonymous nature, BBS also provides a certain built-in protection for this kind of self expression among users.
56minus1: Your vote for the BEST or “most 2.0″ Chinese Web site? Any sites to keep an eye on in the near future?
Tangos Chan: The Chinese “Web2.0″ site I use most is Douban. I have been a Douban user since it first came out…I was the 53rd registered user (my user ID is 53). Although the Douban of 2005 (when it first came out) is much different than the Douban of today, the site’s development has always been quite steady and consistent…recently they released a new function for musicians, I think this is an important step for Douban’s development because it has opened up the site to a whole new space. Besides Douban, I think Kaixin001 is worth paying attention to. The team behind the Kaixin001 has a really good understanding of their users’ needs and wants. They are doing a really good job in terms of productization too. There are other local Chinese sites with bright prospects, but to tell you the truth, I don’t really use them much myself.
56minus1: How does the Chinese Internet differs from the Anglo-centric / Western Internet?
56minus1: Who do you think will win the video sharing site war in China? Or will they all survive?
Tangos Chan: Well, there is no doubt in my mind that they can’t all stick around…in the end, I don’t think more than two will survive. Looking back to the “portal war” in China, in reality, only Sina and Sohu have survived. If Netease wasn’t propped up by its gaming and service provider business, it would have exited the portal market a long time ago. The quantity of advertising in the China market isn’t sufficient to support more than two video sharing sites. In terms of who will actually survive, it’s really hard to say because there is just so much bad and fake information out there about these sites…who knows what is real…so, its hard to judge about these sites’ futures.
56minus1: Tells us about Chinese netizens? Are they unique? If so, why? Waht’s a typical profile of the average “Chinese netizen?”
Tangos Chan: If someone really wants to get an accurate understanding and description of Chinese netizens, I encourage you to read the latest CNNIC report or my English summaries here. In general, Chinese netizens are younger than 25, many are younger than 20, low incomes, accessing the Web from Web cafes, etc. They are online mostly for gaming, chatting on QQ, or downloading movies and music.
56minus1: What do you make of CNNIC’s statistics? Accurate or just “stabs in the dark”? How many people are REALLY using the Internet in China?
Tangos Chan: What do you think I am, God? How the hell am I supposed to know how many Internet users there are in China?! Considering that there really is no other accurate alternative to Internet numbers in China, I think there is great value in CNNIC’s figures as reference points. But actually, I am not really concerned with how many Internet users there are in China. It doesn’t matter if there are 2 hundred million or 1 hundred million, or whatever, these are just numbers anyway. What I care about is how people are using the Internet. Are they gaming? Are they playing on QQ? Are they downloading media? What are they doing? I’m far more interested in what users are doing and how they are doing it…that’s more interesting.
56minus1: What has the Internet done to change China over the past 10 years or so, and how do you see it shaping China’s future?
Tangos Chan: The biggest thing the Internet has done for China was to provide a space / channel for Chinese people to express their opinions. Also, the Internet has provided many more channels by which we can get information. Yes, it’s true the Internet is censored and suppressed to a certain extend, but, even so, it has provided us with many new opportunities as a society. As Bill Gates once said, “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” I cannot predict, but I do hope and believe that the Internet can make China a better society.
56minus1: Who will win the C2C war in China? Does Baidu’s “You A” have a chance against Taobao?
Tangos Chan: Baidu has invested a huge amount of resource in C2C, however, in the short term, Taobao will without a doubt dominate in terms of market share. In the long term though, Baidu and Tencent’s Paipai will slowly but surely nibble away at Taobao’s holdings, forming a three-way balance of power…of course, of the three, Taobao is the strongest.
56minus1: Who will with the SNS war in China? Why? Or…?
Tangos Chan: In the SNS space I think there will be a few that split up the market as leading players. I think Kaixin001, Xiaonei, and 51.com all have a chance for success…also, of course, you can’t forget about QQ.
56minus1: Is your site, China Web2.0 Review, the TechCrunch of China?
Tangos Chan: Techcrunch is a “for-profit” Web site, my China Web 2.0 Review is just a blog…it’s just my personal interest…so, there’s that fundamental difference between the two sites. Before I started writing the CWR blog, I was certainly influenced and inspired by TechCrunch, but my blog is “export oriented” as it’s written for foreigners that want to better understand the China Internet market, so, my objective is also a bit different than TechCruch’s. However, many people have introduced me / my site as “the TechCrunch of China,” a title I am happy to take on. :-)
56minus1: Besides CWR, what to you do for a living?
Tangos Chan: Blogging on CWR is only my part-time job in the evening. My full time job is at China Growth Capital, which is a startup consulting, investing, and incubation company based in Beijing that focuses on early and expansion stage opportunities. So, at China Growth Capital, I work very closely with other startups and entrepreneurs in terms of business strategy, marketing, development, etc.
56minus1: Tell us more about China Web2.0 Review. When did u start it? Why? Why is it in English? Any ambitions for the site to become something other than what it is now?
Tangos Chan: The first post on China Web 2.0 Review was published on October 28, 2005. At that time, I had quite a few friends writing “bridge blogs,” on one hand they were translating good foreign language posts / articles into Chinese, on the other hand, they were trying their hands at writing posts in English to help those outside China gain a better understanding of things here. We all thought that the outside world’s understanding of China shouldn’t only come from mainstream media, whether it was CNN or The China Daily, there needed to be more channels in order to establish true communication and understanding. 2005 was a year in which the outside world really started paying attention to the Chinese digital space…so, in line with foreign interest, I started an English-language blog to introduce developments in the Chinese tech, Internet, and wireless, etc. spaces, and give some attention to some startups that weren’t getting covered in mainstream media.
Regarding the future of CWR, I have a lot of ideas. For example, for a long time now, I have wanted to set up a wiki database for Chinese startups, kinda like Crunchbase
, but I actually had this idea before Crunchbase…anyway, I just never got around to it executing on it…not enough energy or time…haha. I am hoping to get some more bilingual people involved in the site to help write some of the content. From 2006 – 2007 we had Luyi Chen contributing content, a number of excellent pieces in fact.
56minus1: Tell us a bit about this years CNbloggerCon? How were you involved?
Tangos Chan: Cnbloggercon is a very grassroots annual meetup for Chinese bloggers; I’m a member of the main organizing committee. This past year was my first time to be a lead organizer, and I was crazy busy with so many things to prepare, etc. But it turned out to be a really good event even though there were still some shortcomings. The blogger conference, content-wise, is very diversified, you cannot find another conference in China that covers so many important topics. I really like this diversity, it creates opportunities to refresh your mind, and to learn a bit about what’s happening in other fields.
56minus1: Your thoughts on the iPhone in China? Thoughts on Apple in general in China?
Tangos Chan: I think the iPhone will sooner or later properly enter the China market. However, in the short term, I don’t think the China market is going to be all Apple has chalked it up to be for the iPhone, in terms of size / sales.
Apple is great, if it can bring its price points down a bit in the mainland, perhaps in line with Hong Kong’s, I’m sure they was have great sales success in China.
56minus1: Your thoughts on Microsoft’s recent anti-piracy efforts in China with the dark screen “black out” initiative?
Tangos Chan: Well, this incident quite clearly shows yet another Microsoft PR blunder in China. What Microsoft is trying to do is of course not wrong, but when they carry out such initiatives they always put themselves in a bad position, just asking for people to criticize and bash them.
56minus1: Thanks Tangos.